Political Hay

Bring the Debt Ceiling Into Balance

Here's the deal: no debt ceiling expansion without committing to a balanced budget amendment.

By 12.29.10

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Next spring, Republicans will be faced with a serious decision over whether  to vote to raise the debt ceiling. 

Failing to do so could signal foreign countries that the U.S. plans to default on our debt -- an act that would surely have dire economic repercussions. 

On the other hand, Tea Party activists -- and other conservatives -- might understandably view such a vote as evidence that Republicans still don't "get it" -- and that the politicians didn't hear them in November.

So what's the realistic solution to this conundrum?

In all likelihood, Republicans will have to reluctantly vote to extend the debt ceiling -- but they should not do so without extracting some serious concessions in return.

(Note: I'm not suggesting Republicans get in the business of trading for parochial "goodies" -- I'm instead suggesting they turn a lemon into lemonade for the American people.)

Other Republicans are already signaling they agree with this notion. 

As the Hill recently reported:

Incoming House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) made clear Thursday he intends to use a vote next spring on raising the debt ceiling to exact spending concessions from the Obama administration and Democrats.

And on a recent conference call, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) reportedly put it this way:

"… you could actually use a modest increase in the debt ceiling to leverage your ability to pass into law lots of long-term stuff that actually would help bring down the debt and the need to ever have to increase it again."

While Reps. Ryan and Kingston appear to be on the right track in arguing Republicans should not give away a debt ceiling vote for free -- here's my modest proposal:

Republicans should agree to raise the debt ceiling only if Democrats also agree to vote for a balanced budget amendment resolution.

After all, extracting spending concessions would likely have a short-term impact -- but passing a balanced budget amendment would fundamentally address our nation's addiction to spending indefinitely. 

Frankly, there is nothing more important Republicans could do to actually fix the underlying problem with the deficit and the debt than to pass a balanced budget amendment and send it to the states for ratification.

That's why I have agreed to serve as chairman for a new group, Balanced Budget Amendment Now -- and Sen.-elect Mike Lee has graciously agreed to chair our Congressional Advisory Committee.

Balanced Budget Amendment Now is preparing to launch an aggressive campaign to pass a balanced budget amendment by October 2011.

A balanced budget amendment would require politicians to balance the budget each year, would limit spending to no more than 20 percent of the country's GDP -- and would require a two-thirds supermajority vote in Congress to raise taxes. (Any Member of Congress could also bring a federal suit to enforce this article, "when authorized to do so by a petition signed by one-third of the Members of either House of Congress.")

Our effort will include building the infrastructure needed to enlist a minimum of 5,000 supporters in each Congressional district to urge their Members of Congress to vote for an amendment by October of 2011.

Don't think it's realistic that we can actually pass a balanced budget amendment by our deadline? 

The team we've assembled to make this happen is fresh off the heels of overwhelmingly passing legislation in four states last November to preemptively stop "card check" -- legislation that would end the secret ballot for union elections -- our team has momentum.

The same team that led this effort (called "save our secret ballot") is organizing this new effort to pass a balanced budget amendment.

But while our grassroots efforts will play a major role -- passing a constitutional amendment will also require Republican Members of Congress to act courageously.

It is my hope that Republicans won't vote to raise the debt ceiling unless, in return, Democrats agree to a balanced budget amendment.

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About the Author
Ken Blackwell, the former mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio is Vice Chairman of the Republican National Committee's Platform Committee. He also serves on the boards of the Club For Growth and the National Taxpayers Union.